It's the law of the land, which means there's a lot to learn for anyone considering becoming a lawyer in this area. DKM's dedicated real estate attorneys tell us about the challenge of keeping up with ever-evolving laws; how the bustle of New York City presents all kinds of litigious and transactional opportunities; and why it's vital to channel your inner bulldog when negotiating...
Chambers Associate: What does real estate law cover?
Danny Ramrattan, associate: Simply put, it is all about the land. Real estate law falls into two general categories – litigation and transactional. Each category has numerous subsets. Litigation attorneys handle disputes among people, such as between a landlord-tenant, mortgagor-mortgagee, and neighbors. Transactional attorneys complete deals – an example would be the purchasing of a house or condominium unit.
CA: What does a junior associate do?
Rachel Sigmund, associate: Desiderio, Kaufman & Metz PC does not formally differentiate between 'junior' and 'senior' associates (there are just 'associates' without any official distinction for level). Associates are expected to handle all aspects of a client's account in consultation with the assigned partner, if applicable. This includes legal research and analysis; strategy preparation to achieve clients’ goals and objectives; managing client expectations along the way; modifying strategies as necessary throughout representation to suit changing facts and/or new information received from clients; drafting letters, emails and litigation documents; going on meetings and attending site visits and inspections etc...
"Associates are expected to handle all aspects of a client's account in consultation with the assigned partner, if applicable."
Jackie Weinstein, partner: All attorneys at the firm, regardless of their level of experience, contribute with intake and strategy on every file. Newer associates, however, do the bulk of any legal research needed for a file, as our firm uses the lowest billing attorney to complete work whenever possible for our clients.
CA: What does a senior associate do?
JW: More experienced associates, depending on the file, can control his or her own cases, using paralegals and newer associates for ministerial work and any case law research needed. This can include strategy, drafting, court appearances, depositions, and client reporting.
CA: What does a partner do?
RS: The same as associates except, generally speaking, partners will delegate due diligence and investigative (time consuming, research based) type work to associates, in order to focus more on analyzing associates’ findings and recommendations and communicating with clients of his or her department.
JW: It is the responsibility of the partner to make sure that any strategy is flawless and that the timeline of the case is on track. Partners also review and edit all litigation documents before filing, and, of course, keep the clients timely informed of all movement. Partners take on more of an oversight role in addition to doing papers and whatnot. They have more of a leadership role as far as the practices go.
CA: What is the best and worst thing about practicing real estate law?
DR: The best part of working in real estate law is the challenge of it. You will have to be able to navigate between the evolution of certain laws but also be able to go back historically and try to uncover a hidden gem to win a case for a client. This leads into the worst part of practicing in real estate law, which is trying to stay current and up-to-date on such a large body of law; it is dynamic and ever-evolving. This could be especially telling if you are at oral arguments and your adversary springs a new decision on you that came out the day before. However, if you are able to stay on top of the law, and are able to achieve a favorable result, you will feel accomplished knowing that you helped a client in such a challenging arena.
RS: For me, the best aspect is working in New York City which is world-renowned for its real estate market and the opportunities associated with it. With opportunities come legal disputes and the need for lawyers. Consequently, DKM's clients’ issues range from 'typical' (for instance, the representation of buyers and sellers of residential condo and co-op apartments, mortgage foreclosure actions, commercial leasing, landlord-tenant representation, insurance defense litigation etc...) to the particularly unique: for instance, the representation of a tenants group in the rehabilitation and development of their 'squat' building in Manhattan’s Lower East Side to a beautiful newly converted co-op building wherein the existing tenants group had the opportunity to become the owners of their apartments, which they formerly lived in as illegal 'squatters'. All of this comes with being located in New York City. The worst aspect is that client expectations are always extremely high and oftentimes not reasonable in the circumstances. The idea of 'managing client expectations' seems to take on a new meaning with New York City based clients.
"If you are able to stay on top of the law, and are able to achieve a favorable result, you will feel accomplished knowing that you helped a client in such a challenging arena."
JW: The best and worst thing about practicing in real estate is, ironically, the same thing: it can get personal.
CA: Which qualities make a good real estate lawyer?
DR: I think a good real estate litigation attorney needs to be diligent and aggressive. If you are diligent and well-prepared you will have a good grasp of the law and be able to argue your point. You also need to be aggressive in making sure you get your point across. These two qualities are essential together because if you lack one then you lack both. You may be aggressive and get your point across, but if you are not diligent in learning that area of law then your point may not be accurate. If you diligently know the law, but are unable to get your point across in court, then your knowledge of the law is useless.
RS: Quick thinking; easily adaptable to changing expectations and needs of clients; advanced interpersonal skills; confidence; hard working; diligent in keeping up with new trends and changes in the industry; being able to empathize with clients’ feelings more so than other areas of law because the subject matter typically involves the client's home and thus becomes very personal to them.
“Being a bulldog is a must for a real estate attorney. It is often about money, and the side with the stronger negotiator for counsel generally prevails.”
Joanna Peck, associate: I think that you have to have really good interpersonal skills, good client management skills and be able to deal with people. If you are not good with people it's not going to work out.
JW: Being a bulldog is a must for a real estate attorney. It is often about money, and the side with the stronger negotiator for counsel generally prevails.
CA: What are the current issues in real estate that law students interested in the area should be aware of?
RS: They should be aware of the new tax law changes and how they are changing the market, pertaining, but not limited to, development trends, investment, and sales activities. Also, they should pay attention to the efforts of local government and officials to sustain (and increase) the amount of affordable housing options available throughout New York City to lower and middle income individuals and families.
JP: I think in NYC an important issue is adjacent property disputes, whether they're over construction or noise or neighborly things. In NYC everyone is living on top of each other so the disputes you see are generally between adjoining owners.
JW: As the head of the Foreclosure Litigation Department at our firm, we are seeing big changes of late with respect to how the New York courts are handling these matters.
CA: On that note what does the future hold for the real estate market?
JP: We only focus on NYC so I can't speak to the rest of the country but I think it is going to continue to flourish and expand, and with that we will see more adjacent property disputes.
"In NYC everyone is living on top of each other so the disputes you see are generally between adjoining owners."
DR: The real estate market may take a hit from time to time, but it is always on an upward trajectory.
RS: There will be a continued decrease in prices for luxury apartments over the next year due to (among other things) the federal tax law changes affecting New Yorkers. In addition, we can expect to see higher competition for homes under $1 million.
CA: And the legal market in relation to it?
DR: Land is the only thing that they are not making more of – the legal market for real estate attorneys will continue to grow.
RS: I think there will be increased transactional opportunities and potentially litigation as people try to rescind purchase agreements.
CA: How can law students brush up on their knowledge of the real estate market? Are there any books/publications that you would recommend?
DR: Finding the Uncommon Deal [written by Adam Leitman Bailey] is a great book to read in order to learn about real estate transactions. Most people don’t truly understand things such as title insurance, and the book does a great job of deciphering those misunderstood concepts.
"The real estate market may take a hit from time to time, but it is always on an upward trajectory."
JP: Real estate has a physical element, so it's not just about reading up on something – it's about going to see it and understanding why something is really important to a client. You have to go out and see what is going on with your clients and observe it.
CA: What experience could somebody gain in order to figure out whether they might be suited to working as a real estate lawyer?
JW: The best experience, of course, comes from working at a law firm and learning by hands-on experience. Other than summering or interning at a firm, though, working for a title company can also give a student valuable experience to bring to later work as counsel.
CA: Describe the opportunities unique to DKM.
DR: DKM has exceptionally talented attorneys, who are the best in their respective fields of real estate law – all of whom you can learn from. What truly makes DKM unique is that we inspire greatness.
"Essentially, at DKM associates (and not just partners) are able to serve as their own bosses much of the time."
RS: I would say the responsibility that you get for all aspects of your clients' accounts, which means that you gain tremendous experience in not only the 'law' itself but also with regards to interpersonal, client interaction and customer service related skills. You develop accountability for your decisions at every level; you learn how to prioritize certain issues and client needs over others; and you hone your ability to manage client expectations. Essentially, at DKM associates (and not just partners) are able to serve as their own bosses much of the time because there is no 'true' hierarchical structure, which translates into a level of autonomy for associates that does not exist at other firms.
JP: It's extremely entrepreneurial here. If you want a 'white shoe' law firm – where people give you direction and you don’t have to think – then this is not the place for you. You have to be on your feet, be entrepreneurial and not afraid to vocalize your opinions on what you think of a particular matter and where you see the opportunities. It takes a lot of common sense and strategic thinking.
JW: Our firm is the best in New York for everything real estate. Our attorneys are proud to be a part of the firm and, equally as important, are proud of the work product that our firm puts out. The firm is a family that works together to get results for its clients.